Thursday, March 24, 2011

Garden party

This is one of my earliest paintings featuring Autie Ro and her three lady friends. You'll see more recent paintings of them in two posts I put up in February.
I look at this painting now and I see how raw the characters were at the start - but that's how these things develop! As a teenager, I was very unsettled by early Tintin drawings. Tintin's unpolished finish, his lopsided face and wonky hair looked all wrong. It was like the face of your brother suddenly becoming unfamiliar. (I took Tintin very seriously as a teenager.)

The characters have developed since those days - and that's the real beauty of designing characters. It's like watching Tony Hart (or whoever it was) making Morph out of clay - it starts as an amorphous lump, becomes a little guy, and suddenly the "it" becomes a "him". Once that happens, you're home and dry: the character will tell you who he or she is, and you don't have to do any work. You just provide the sweat.

That makes me sound like a madwoman. But as I always say to my husband, which would he rather have - me making up these characters, which occasionally brings in money and keeps me happy and out of trouble,  OR having to engage the services of a mental health professional, which costs money, as does the medication that he or she invariably recommends? There really is only one answer to that.

I think you can expect to see a lot more of Auntie Ro and her ilk.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fig recipe entry!

I found a wonderful site on Sunday evening. It is called They Draw and Cook and it is full of illustrated recipes from around the world. Amyone can do it - it seems to be the perfect embodiment of everything that is wonderful about the internet. It is democratic (anyone at all can upload a recipe, regardless of skill level): it shares happiness (what could be happier than eating something delicious?): it is entertaining (just look at a few and you'll agree) - and above all, it is a beautiful way to unite the world.

Anyway they had a competition on which I thought I would like to enter - only trouble was, the closing date was just a few hours away. I found the site on Sunday night and the closing date and time was Monday at midnight EST. In fact if it had been midnight my time, I wouldn't have made it.

The recipe had to feature figs - fresh or dried, it didn't matter. Other than that, it had to follow a size format, but you were entirely free otherwise to do whatever you liked.
I woke up at 6 am on Monday, determined to get an entry in on time. I finished at 1 am...and the results are here for you to see. I still had to walk the dog, get the kids ready for school, make lunch (a divine homemade pizza with anchovies), make dinner (we won't talk too much about that - suffice to say that often the dinners that come from the freezer are the kids' favourites) and clean the kitchen.

Give the recipe a try - it's really delicious!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The red-haired detective and other strips

This is a story I wrote about a redheaded detective who lived in a very stylish pad, with a cute bull terrier called Peggy. I did it because I wanted to own a bull terrier at the time, and this was the closest I was going to get. I just found their little stumpy bodies so adorable, but that is NOT a good reason for taking on a dog.
(In fact, gorgeous physiology was one of the reasons I bought Cato the boxer; he was absolutely beautiful, and graceful, and he was an unmitigated disaster.)
I didn't just want a bull terrier, I wanted a stylish pad too, and I wasn't getting that either. So I enjoyed expressing my inner style diva in pencil and gouache. But I didn't get farther with the drawings than this page... the comic strip format was simply too repetitive for my patience.

However, I can handle short strips with a short, pithy message, such as this cartoon about a (slightly) less disastrous boxer who was Cato's forebear:

This strip was based on real events! My husband would amuse himself when he was supposed to be doing some job with a scary deadline by messing with Bou Bou the boxer. (The unusual spelling was taken very seriously by my husband, who named him after a French dog he had loved as a little boy.) The funny thing was that Dog Magic really was very interesting to watch, as you could actually see the cogs of Bou Bou's brain slowly starting to whirr into life and wake up. We decided that it would be a really good way to keep Bou Bou's brain young and lively into old age. This might well have worked, except that unfortunately I sabotaged that by buying Cato while Bou Bou was still living. It hastened his demise I think, as Cato showed no mercy at all in asserting his dominance in every way possible. I thought the new pup would be life-giving to the old fella. I know that sounds naive, but that did happen with cute little Pip, the Jack Russell, who would pester Bou Bou for ages until the older dog would finally give in and chase Pip around the garden like a maniac. We used to call it The Pip and Bou Bou Show and it would gladden the grumpiest of hearts to see them race around the lawn, Pip always getting caught at the end, with Bou Bou putting a big paw on him to show that he was caught, and then off they'd go again.
Poor old Pip was killed on the road soon after his first birthday, and we cried for days.
Cato never inspired me to write cartoons about him, but Bou Bou was an endless source of inspiration. He was about seven when my youger daughter was born, and she had an especially affectionate relationship with him. The night before her fifth birthday, Bou Bou got up in the night and baked her a cake - and I painted the results on her birthday card. I thought this was hilarious - it wore off with the kids after a few minutes but I got great amusement out of it for ages, so I made a little strip out of it:

It's great when your own drawings are a source of amusement. the bad side of this is that you are very bewildered when the rest of the world doesn't respond by falling around laughing. Oh well.

Our current dog is not funny at all.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Personalised baby boy card

Today I am going to paint a card for a baby boy called Charlie. The two recipients of recent baby cards - the Anna one and another with a recipe for a baby on it -  immediately said they were going to frame them and put them on the baby's door, so I think this one will be a good bet too.

I really like the combination of light blues, and I wanted to do the letters of the baby's name, but I wanted to add something cute as well to make it a bit more exciting.  I thought that the cuddly animals looked really good on the card for Anna but I wanted a cleaner, simpler look, so I decided to choose just one animal...but which one? None seemed right, and I even considered doing a little boy, but I couldn't see it in my mind. Remember, it is crucial to see what you plan to do in your mind before you start. If you can do this successfully, it is almost as if you are just "colouring in" and it's plain sailing from there! Suddenly I had it - monkeys. Little boys are terrible monkeys, after all...
So I decided to do the name CHARLIE in block capitals, in a mix of baby blues, with mokeys clambering all over the letters, in shades of brown and beige.

Now, for some reason, I am not very good at drawing monkeys. The ears look wrong, the head always looks wrong and the body is usually pretty wrong. That's where the internet comes in.
First, at the risk of looking very useless, this is how I draw a monkey with no references:

Not great. So I had to turn to the internet for inspiration. I googled "cute monkey photos". Lots of beautiful pics of adorable baby monkeys came up. I saw a tiny, hairy baby orang utan with bright orange hair sticking straight up from his head; some kind of extremely cute blond fellow of uncertain species who looked like he missed his mummy; baby chimps frolicking like bear cubs. But none of them looked right. They didn't look cheeky enough. I googled "cheeky monkey photos". No luck there. Curiously, nobody else seems to be able to draw cute monkeys either - I saw lots of drawings of monkeys and they were all dreadful (except for one tiny monkey tattoo which was very cute).

So it's back to an idea that had formed as I browsed the net. I may not like other people's drawings of monkeys, and I wasn't particularly inspired by photos of monkeys, but I am inspired by sock monkeys - I think they are terrific. It also gives me the option of using colour, especially....tartan! Now I'm excited.
Now back to the web, this time for "sock monkey photos". Lots of gorgeous pictures. (Enough to make you want to make one...which I will, and I will describe it here!)
Here is a sketch of one of my favourites:

1. So, to the drawing. I approach it in the usual way, starting with a sketch, drawing out the letters nice and evenly:
 I know it is barely visible, and I apologise for that, but I think it is still useful to see how simple the first stage is. The main thing is to ensure that the letters are roughly the same size, evenly spaced and level.

2. Next, we make the letters into solid shapes. This is done by blocking out the areas around each tentatively-drawn letter, in such a way that all the letters are of equal thickness, more or less:

3. Then I draw the monkeys and a few patterns so that I won't go way off the plan when I am doing the final version:
These monkeys look nice, but they didn't come so easily. I fiddled with their size (they were too big), their eyes (took ages for them to be cute enough) and their positions for ages, but I was happy enough in the end. This is a reminder of the importance of having nice heavy paper to start with - it has to be strong to withstand lots of rubbing out. Also note how the patterns were drawn to keep them uniform and evenly-spaced.

4. Next comes the tracing. Remember I have mentioned in previous posts that you are free to choose your favourite lines at this stage, or to change them a bit:

 5. Next, you transfer the tracing to the piece of paper you are going to use for the card. As I have mentioned before, you simply draw on the reverse of the tracing paper with a 2B or B pencil, and then carefully lay it onto the piece of paper, hold it very steady, and scribble over the lines quite firmly so that the pencil line is transferred. The paper I have chosen for this is my usual gorgeous "The Langton" by Daler Rowney, 140lb weight. Wonderfully heavy so that it will make something that's really nice to keep.

6. Once that is done, you may want to go over the lines with a B pencil. I didn't, and within a few minutes they had almost disappeared from my hand rubbing over them as I worked.

7. So, to paint: I already mentioned that I wanted to keep quite a tight palette of light blues and browns. I used Dr. Ph. Martin's Concentrated Water Colors (DPM) mixed with Permanent White gouache for all the painting. I could have used the DPM neat, but I like the chalky effect you get when you mix them with gouache.

8. In this picture, I have already gone quite far - I got lost in concentration and I forgot to take photos! I have used a variety of colours for the blues: I have mixed Turquoise Blue with white for the C, and then I mixed up some Ultra Blue with white for the H, A and R. I also addes a bit of turquoise to the Ultra Blue mixture, as I wanted to make sure the change would not be too sudden. Then I mitigated against that anyway by darkening some of the triangles in the C. That is the first time I have used this Argyle sort of pattern, and I like it so much I shall be Argyling lots of things to come!
(I would like to point out that it was very hard to concentrate as I had a very bored nine-year old boy for  company throughout the execution of this card, who was letting me know, chapter and verse, what a dreadful day he was having. He eventually ran out of steam but it took a long time. I just steeled myself and ploughed on regardless - my husband would be meeting the new daddy later on, and I had no time to waste.)
9. In this somewhat blurred photo you can see that I have finished my blues and started on the browns.

Now seems like a good time to comment on the very satisfying way that I paint, especially if you are a control freak. It happens that I am quite an untidy person. Not as bad as some, but certainly a lot worse than others. My mother cannot understand how I leave a trail of disorder behind me and yet have such a manically neat way of painting. The truth is that I long for order, but it's just too hard in real life. There is too much stuff, not enough cupboards, it's too boring, I'd rather do it later...but I still love it. So I satisfy my need for perfect order in my painting. I can tell you that if you are a control freak (I think I'm too messy to qualify properly) then you, too, will love painting this way. Think about it: no dripping water, no paint bleeding into other paint, nice sharp lines, colour combinations exactly as you want them...bliss.

10. Now we're nearly done. I painted all the little sock monkeys and drew in their eyes with a 3B pencil. leaving a little highlight for cuteness at the outer edge (doesn't matter which side you choose, just keep it consistent). But that wasn't quite dark enough so I painted very carefully over them with DPM Black.
I also picked out the outer edges of the letters in a mix of Ultra Blue with a tiny touch of white gouache, and the outer edges of those little guys in a dark brown (Sepia), again, with a tiny bit of white gouache added.

11. Lastly, I decided to paint the background in a very soft cream. I mixed some Daffodil Yellow (just a tiny drop) with some white gouache, but that was too yellow, so I added the tiniest drop of Golden Brown and that did the trick. I wanted a cream that was almost a light beige - but not quite. Painting the background had the effect of making the whites really stand out, without compromising the impact of the letters and monkeys - which would have been so if I had chosen a darker colour.

Et voila!
My beautiful card, all firm and texture-y, on lovely watercolour paper. It really would look great on the little guy's bedroom door, or on his wall...

Now my kids want to (a) make sock monkeys, (b) want me to make them sock monkeys and (c) want signs for their doors with their names and sock monkeys on them. I guess the tidying up will have to wait.